Crowned best sommelier in the world since 2019, Marc Almert is head sommelier at the Baur Au Lac hotel in Zurich, Switzerland. He warned the beverage trade about five styles of wine that are currently catching his eye.
1. South African Cinsault
“You can never have enough South African wine,” says Almert. While his enthusiasm ranges from Eben Sadie’s Swartland wines to the cooler-climate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay of Walker Bay, two varietals in particular deserve special attention right now, according to Almert.
“The two grape varieties that fascinate me in South Africa at the moment are Sémillon, because you don’t find so many of them internationally, and Cinsault,” he says. “Everyone says we don’t want too much alcohol in our wine and Cinsault makes great wines without high alcohol.”
2. Native grapes
“My big passion is native grapes,” admits Almert. In his own restaurant, he confirms that he is “pouring Neuburger at the moment”, an Austrian grape variety which often produces full-bodied and nutty white wines and which performs particularly well in the Leithaberg region of Burgenland.
This enthusiasm also draws Almert to other countries with a strong catalog of native varieties. “I work a lot with Spain,” he said. “A variety that I have shown to many Pinot Noir lovers is Mencia.” Almert also predicts that “Portugal and Greece will soon be rediscovered by wine drinkers – there is so much to discover”.
Not familiar with PIWI varieties? They could represent the future of many parts of the world. Short for “Pilzwiderstandsfähig”, or “fungus resistant”, many of these new varieties are now rolling out of the lab and into commercial vineyards, with Switzerland and southern Germany proving to be a particular hub. Almert is convinced that their interest extends beyond the scientific community to producers and wine lovers.
“Nowadays it’s not just about being biodynamic, it’s also about having grapes that can protect against disease,” he asserts, while admitting that “it’s still an absolute niche “. For those wishing to explore further, Almert highlights varietals such as Johanniter, Cabernet Blanc and Sauvignac, adding: “Cabernet Jura is one of the best reds. As for the producers, he points to the Swiss Weingut Lenz and Weingut zum Sternen as particularly successful PIWI pioneers.
4. Austrian organic products
“Among the European countries, Austria is probably the most dynamic,” observes Almert. “They are the ones who talk the most about organic and natural wines, almost every year you have a new DAC and there are more and more winegrower associations.” He expresses a particular enthusiasm for the quality that is now emerging from the southern Styrian region “especially Welschriesling”.
When it comes to Austrian reds, “The variety across the board with the highest quality is the Blaufränkisch,” says Almert. “It has the most opportunity to age and be paired with interesting foods.” That said, for sheer drinkability, “If people like Beaujolais crus, they’ll like Zweigelt.”
Pointing to the Carnuntum region as a particularly exciting hub for this varietal, Almert observes that here “it has the keeping capacity of several Beaujolais crus and there is probably a higher concentration of producers here who take it seriously: people like Payr, Artner and Netzl.
5. Sparkling wine with food
Sparkling may be most often served as an aperitif, but Almert likes to explore the potential of this style to shine with something more substantial than canapes. “I like sparkling wine with food, especially fish dishes with mature vintage champagne,” he recommends. “It invites a great transition from whites to reds.”
But even heartier red meat dishes can shine with the right bubbly, Almert insists. “A sparkling rosé with a certain age can be really interesting with something like a saddle of venison, served Baden-Baden style with cranberries, pear slices and spätzle,” he recommends. “Also with lighter mushrooms like chanterelle.”
Almert also points to creative wine pairing possibilities for sparkling wines that take an alternative stylistic direction to Champagne. For example, the aromatic Muskateller Sekt is perfect for “fun with desserts”.